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Emails: GOP Secured Majority After VA Dem Promised Job, Phone And Car

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AP Photo / Steve Helber

Virginia State Sen. Phillip Puckett (D) was supposed to go work for the Republican-led state tobacco commission. Emails between Puckett and Tim Pfohl, the panel's interim director, reveal that the two were negotiating as May 29 the terms of Puckett's exit and that Pfohl was going out of his way to avoid an appearance of impropriety or quid pro quo.

Puckett would also be allowed to write his own job description, which was set to be, "Senior advisor to the Commission." His start date was to be June 25.

Puckett's surprise resignation on June 9 flipped the evenly divided Senate to the GOP by one vote, giving them an upper hand in the battle with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) about whether or not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. (Republicans are dead set against expansion.) After outrage by Democrats and questions of impropriety, Puckett quickly took himself out of the running for the tobacco panel job.

A May 29 email from Pfohl to Ned Stephenson, the deputy director of the tobacco commission, read, "If you're in tomorrow Terry would like us to call Puckett to discuss what kind of role he might like w/ Commission." (Terry is Del. Terry Kilgore (R), the chairman of the commission.)

Stephenson responded within half-an-hour, "I will be in all day."

The next day, Pfohl emailed Puckett: "Phillip: Chairman Kilgore has asked Ned and I to reach out to you to discuss potential role(s) for you as an employee or the Commission. I'm not aware of the genesis of this idea, but Terry has asked us to speak to you when you're available. If there's a good time and phone number to reach you please let us know."

On June 5, Stephenson emailed him a draft job description with the compensation unclear but benefits listed as "state employee benefit package, cell phone, car (?)." He invited Puckett to weigh in: "I welcome your comments and conversation about how we can shape this for mutual success."

After the Washington Post reported on June 8 that Puckett was planning to resign and take on a job with the tobacco commission, Kilgore emailed Pfohl the following day to "Hold up" on the process. Moments later he followed up, "May not wNt to do it." Pfohl replied, "OK."